This week’s questions comes from a reader looking for clarification on a few points I’ve made:
It seems like you draw a distinction between memorization and studying. I get there are obvious differences outside of a school context but inside of a school, to me, they’re virtually the same thing. What are those differences in school?
I think about the relationship between memorization and studying as two nebulous spheres connecting like a venn diagram. I realize how unhelpful that is but hopefully with a little clarification this image will help. Perhaps I was just looking to use the word nebulous and sphere. It’s really just a hazy venn diagram.
This is very similar to the distinction I make between memorization and understanding. Studying is the word I prefer to use for the process of trying to understand. I’m not always completely disciplined about this distinction for two reasons.
- This is a minor distinction that only a tiny percentage of the audience would appreciate.
- I regularly forget anyway. (I was raised without these distinctions too.)
Memorization is the process of recording and (more importantly,) recalling certain individual facts. Memorization in practice would be reading one side of a flash card and knowing what’s on the other side of that flash card.
Studying is more closely related to learning in my mind. When you memorize something, you’re looking for a single connection between two things. When you’re studying something, you’re looking at the relationship between a number of different important facts (but you’re less focused on the individual details.) So, when you look at one side of the flashcard, you might not know exactly what is on the other side of the flashcard but you should know how what you’re reading relates to a lot of other information.
For most of what this blog discusses, these two factors are intimately entwined with one another. That being said, in most classes, one of these factors is significantly more valuable than the other.
History classes can be a good example of this discrepancy. In some history classes, the tests are heavily focused on dates and names. In those history courses, memorization is the important part. In history courses that focus more on the general timeline of events, memorization isn’t all that important. (These two factors are so closely related that I rarely feel the need to distinguish the two. That can lead to it being confusing if you’re being precise.) Both factors still matter in both classes but they matter in different amounts.
Memorization helps you recall individual facts. Studying helps you understand the whole situation better. (Of course, this is mostly an artificial distinction I use to help clarify. In most contexts it would be almost interchangeable.)
Why I Distinguish The Two?
Most of the time, making a distinction between these two forms of preparing for a test (studying, you might call it, to make this even more confusing,) is unnecessary. It’s much easier just to focus on the nebulous connection between the two. When you study something, memorize the memorable parts. When you memorize something, try to understand it too.
The advantage to making the distinction between these two strategies is efficiency. Memorization provides a much less deep understanding of a subject in significantly less time than traditional studying. That less deep understanding can provide better results than a more deep understanding depending on the subject.
Let’s say you’re taking an anatomy course as an elective. (I know it’s a weird choice but play along.) In an anatomy course, you’re usually required to learn a huge number of bones and muscles. Considering it’s an elective, those are hundreds of relatively pointless facts. To learn how those bones interact with each other can help you become a more successful health majoring student but you can memorize all those muscles and bones in much less time than it would take you to study them.
Memorizing information lets you learn the bare minimum fast (or relatively fast.)
Of course, this can go in the opposite direction as well. If you’re taking an literature course, it’s virtually pointless for you to waste your time memorizing assorted facts about the book. In most cases, if you read it and get a general idea of what happened, you’ll be just as well suited for the test as if you spent hours memorizing it. Naturally, that comes with the risk of forgetting individual facts that can help you.
Studying information can also let you learn the bare minimum relatively fast if you’re doing it right.
In most cases though, the bare minimum to learn is a balance between studying and memorization. They’re virtually the same thing in these cases. That balance usually doesn’t have to be cautiously maintained by a student. It tends to come naturally in most situations. In this blog I try to point out the situations when it doesn’t.
The distinction between the two is not perfectly clear and they definitely overlap significantly but there is a difference. While I may bring up the distinction at times, it’s generally a small factor when it comes to study efficiency.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives to learn more. If you’re looking to master memorizing, studying, and your grades, check out the ebooks in the sidebar.
This is an absolutely essential read for anyone on this blog.
I’m about 4 hours away from something big.
The story began a decade ago when I first started to share my study strategies with other students.
I had figured out the Holy Grail of academic optimization strategies – and every intermediate step to get to it. Using this strategy, I pulled a nearly 4.0 GPA while running a double course load in college – and once I started sharing it.
Droves of them.
And then teachers noticed.
Most of the teachers that were looking out for their student’s best interest got what I was saying and supported the cause. Others… well… not everyone has the student’s best interest at heart.
Early on (even before Smart Student Secrets,) I started writing for average students.
I knew… I was NEVER one of the “smart kids”. I was mediocre at best. And I knew, if these strategies worked for me then they could work for just about anybody. And that’s who I wanted to connect with.
But… There was a problem…
I built an audience giving these strategies away. Sure…
And I’d get messages from them. And we’d talk. And I’d hear their stories.
I’d hear from A+ students that cut their study time by 90%.
I’d hear from B students that took their grades up to A’s.
I’d hear from teachers that were sharing my strategies with their students.
I’d hear from older students how these strategies changed their life.
I love it. I love introducing these strategies that changed my life to other people.
But there was always this… but…
What about the C students?
What about the D students?
What about the students that are currently failing?
Sure… Some would reach out.. but…
They never followed through… They’d take a small step. They’d sign up. They’d learn some killer strategies. Seeing right there how powerful they were going to be…
And then… life kicks in. They lose sight of their goals.
And it’s gone.
Student’s came to this site to improve their life. They see the possibilities. But then… they move on.
In about 4 hours, I’m going to be introducing something – an email subscriber exclusive – that can help change that.
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If you’re ready to take your academic game to the next level – if you want to see it for yourself.
Write your email in the box. Check the confirmation you want emails. Confirm your email. And see for yourself.